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Pop Music | THE $50 GUIDE

From B.R.M.C. and the Old 97's, Re-Energized Rock

April 29, 2001|ROBERT HILBURN

Thanks to new albums from B.R.M.C. and the Old 97's, rock 'n' roll highlights this edition of Calendar's guide to keeping up with what's fresh in pop music on an album budget of $50 a month. But we haven't overlooked sensitive singer-songwriter types. Works by Ani DiFranco and Tiffany Anders are also recommended.


B.R.M.C.'s "Black Rebel Motorcycle Club," Virgin. This California rock outfit certainly tips its hat to worthy influences--taking its name from Marlon Brando's biker gang in the 1954 film "The Wild One" and, more important, its sound in part from the great British band the Jesus and Mary Chain's seductive mix of haunting melodies and brutal, guitar-driven aggression. "Love Burns," the opening track on B.R.M.C.'s debut album even conveys the obsession and desperation of most Mary Chain themes--as do "Red Eyes and Tears" and "White Palms." A terrific new band.

Ani DiFranco's "Revelling/Reckoning," Righteous Babe. Whether the tough-minded folkie was devoting too much time producing albums for other artists or was thrown off stride by all the acclaim she received in the late '90s, DiFranco has been on an artistic slide ever since her superb "Dilate" album explored the intricacies of romantic turmoil in 1996. But this bountiful two-disc package is an artistic reawakening. The first disc ('Revelling") is a smart and alert sonic adventure, adding funk and jazz sounds to her traditional framework. Even better is the second disc ('Reckoning"), a more intimate, folk-edged look at the consequences and challenges of a relationship.

Old 97's, "Satellite Rides," Elektra. This may be my favorite album of the young year--a collection of songs that moves Rhett Miller and his band from the sometimes suffocating shadow of the alt-country movement. There's a wider pop-rock sensibility here that reminds you in places of the lyrical dexterity and bite of Elvis Costello as well as the warmer, wistful observation of Peter Case. In "Rollerskate Skinny," Miller warns, "You and nobody see eye to eye / You're gonna wake up with a ghost instead of a guy." The music has the brightness of late-'70s new wave, but it's updated with independence and conviction that punctuate every line.


Tiffany Anders, "Funny Cry Happy Gift," Up. Anders is the daughter of filmmaker Allison Anders ('Mi Vida Loca" and "Gas Food Lodging"), but that's not the reason you should care about her. There's something so understated yet uniquely haunting and personal in Anders' music that she's lucky to have gone into the studio with a producer as tasteful and sympathetic as Polly Jean Harvey. It would have been easy to overdress the delicate reflections on personal identity and relationships, but Harvey leaves the music so naked that it allows you to discover Anders at your own pace, making the eventual connection all the more powerful.

Mirwais, "Production," Epic. Mirwais Ahmadzai is the veteran, Paris-based producer-composer who collaborated with Madonna on much of her "Music" album, and you can hear in these tracks what attracted the Material Mom to the electronica auteur. The opening number, "Disco Science," has a tense, blues-rock rumbling that reminds you of A3's "Woke Up This Morning," so don't be surprised if it ends up in an episode of "The Sopranos." Elsewhere, Mirwais invites you into a world of exotic soundscapes, teasing and taunting you with his sonic imagination.

Caetano Veloso, "Noites do Norte," Nonesuch. Of all the artists whose mainstream U.S. profiles were boosted by the media focus on Latin pop last year, this veteran Brazilian singer-composer is one of the most compelling. Here, Veloso offers a meditation on race and national identity in his homeland, even using the title track ('Nights of the North") to present the words of 19th century Brazilian abolitionist Joaquim Nabuco. But he moves elsewhere in the album to other topics, always dressing his ideas with instrumental touches that are as engaging and as imaginative as his exquisite vocals. Filled with humanity and, despite some darkness, an uplifting spirit.


Robert Hilburn, the Times pop music critic, can be reached at

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